Woohoo! Chapter nine, we’re officially halfway through!
It was all too much to bear. Feb was dead and now Celeste, and here Neve stood when she was supposed to be in prison, horrified and staring. Had she heard Celeste’s final words? Riley waited cautiously for her to speak with this numb sort of feeling, her thoughts still dull with shock.
“Is she . . .” Neve started, but seemed to already know the answer. She stepped past Riley and over to Celeste, and brushed a bit of hair from her cheek. Riley held her breath a moment until Neve spoke again, all choked up and entirely focused on the girl sat before her. “It was that explosion, wasn’t it. When I felt the heat of it, I knew – I knew it had to be bad.”
She stifled a sob, and Riley wiped a tear with her sleeve and turned away. No more tears came, nor could she sob like Neve as all the thoughts in her mind began to flood back in. Their leader was truly dead, and here the second-in-command was completely unaware; Riley was lost in what to do about any of that.
“Did she say anything?” Neve asked, and Riley hesitated. They glanced at each other just long enough for their eyes to meet, then awkwardly looked away, and she hoped Neve wouldn’t learn anything from her expression.
“She was okay. With going out like this, I mean. She said it was a fine price to pay for the family February brought her.” Neve grimaced and hid her face in her hands a moment, and Riley’s stomach lurched as she recalled how pale and weak and sweaty Celeste had been in that hotel room, how earnest she’d been despite Riley’s apprehension.
“What should we do?” Neve asked. She’d always managed things well, but she never had to manage death, not with them. “Where do we take the body?”
“I don’t know.” Riley answered honestly. “We can’t do anything that’ll get us caught. We might just have to leave her here.”
“Is it ‘Abandon Our Team-Mates Day?’” She asked darkly, and shook her head. “No, we have to figure something out.”
“I didn’t have a choice, Neve, there were cops everywhere.” Riley said defensively. “Feb, Sorrel, Aidy, we all left.”
“They didn’t leave when there was only one woman standing!” Neve bit back, then shook her head once more. “I can’t deal with this now. Too much has happened.”
She turned back to Celeste, and Riley sighed. She wondered what happened to Feb’s body, if Celeste moved her or buried her or if a coroner had already picked her up. She didn’t even know how Feb died, if it was an accident or if she was killed by an officer. Maybe it was even one of their own, or Celeste herself died scheming. But she didn’t want to consider either of those.
“Help me move her into the shade.” She suggested, and Neve nodded tersely. “We can use a pay phone or something to call an ambulance later.”
They lifted her gently out of the car; she was so light Riley could hold her on her own, as she just had, but she wanted to let Neve help, and the other woman seemed to appreciate it. They took her behind the hotel and set her down in the grass by a small tree. It wasn’t the best spot, right next to a load of broken down boxes that needed to be recycled, but it would do for the time being. They both stood sorrowful, and though it felt like a funeral Riley had to remind herself that they could all fix this and attend a real one soon enough. One for her, one for Feb.
“You were with Mica.” She muttered, and gestured to the duffel bag when Neve gave her a questioning look.
“Yeah. She thought the cash would be safer with me. She went to the airstrip to look for Sorrel, Aidy, and Feb.” She explained, and Riley knit her brows.
“Feb won’t be there.” She said, then instantly wanted to kick herself as Neve went wide-eyed.
“You spoke to Feb?” She stepped closer and grabbed her arms with a sense of urgency. “Where is she, what’s going on?”
“I didn’t.” Riley said quickly, and glanced over to Celeste. “She did.”
Neve released her, but still looked hopeful, and Riley thought back to Celeste’s last words. Don’t tell them. Chaos. True, it would be chaos to tell, that and heartbreak. It was the worst time to lose a leader, right in the middle of a massive betrayal when they all needed nothing more than someone to unify them. Riley couldn’t give that to anyone, but she couldn’t take that hope away.
“She’s in hiding.” She managed. “Figured that would be safer.”
“Because of the traitor.” Neve said immediately. “That makes sense. She’s probably on her way to the meet-up spot right now.”
“What?” Riley jumped, and Neve glanced to Celeste again. “There’s a meet-up spot?”
“She didn’t trust you enough to tell you.” Neve figured slowly. “Which begs the question: why should I?”
“Not more of this!” Riley cried out. “If I was the rat why would I rush to flee the scene? Why would I let Mica run off with the cash just to give it to you?”
Neve looked none too pleased to be reminded of that abandonment, but she hesitated, and that was enough for Riley.
“She didn’t trust me enough to give me everything, but it was just enough to work with me, so let’s do the same.” She urged. She wasn’t usually one to beg for a team-up, but she was so adrift and was sure to be consumed by the madness that half-gripped her already if she had no one to be with after Celeste.
“You abandoned me. I was practically guaranteed a jail sentence.” Neve pointed out. “You prioritized the bedlam you so love to cause over me, your own family.”
“And I won’t apologize for that. I did what I did and I stand by it.” Riley said firmly. “At the end of the day, I love you all. Don’t leave me alone.”
She knew there was no advantage for Neve, and she was probably keen on leaving her just as she had done earlier, but to Riley’s surprise, she nodded slowly.
“Two heads are better than one.” She said, then gave her a cold look. “Don’t think that means I’m anywhere near forgiving you.”
“Gotcha.” She replied. “So Mica’s headed to the airstrip.”
“As is Sorrel.” She said, and Riley’s surprise emanated across her features.
“You’ve been talking with everyone.” She said, vaguely impressed, but Neve frowned.
“She got to the chopper we hid before the heist, but was flying over the city instead of going to the airstrip where we’d planned her to go. Real low to look for one of us. Happened to stumble on me.” She frowned further. “I think something happened to Aidy.”
A lump formed in Riley’s throat. Not another death, she couldn’t take that right now. Aidy wasn’t as young as Celeste, but twenty five was still too soon and the poor thing was always more fragile than their cohorts.
“You think?” She asked weakly, her eyes on Celeste, and Neve looked dour but thankfully unsure.
“She wasn’t with Sorrel, who wouldn’t answer any questions when I asked them.” She said, and Riley felt dread creep in. “Even though she left with her, something stopped her from getting in that helicopter.”
“You don’t think Sorrel . . .” Riley trailed off, and Neve looked downcast.
“I wish denial was my first instinct there.” She said. “But I can’t rely on any of you anymore. None of us can be trusted.”
“Maybe she’s fine. Maybe we’re overreacting.” Riley offered, but Neve gave her an incredulous look that reminded her of the last time she’d tried to think like that. And now that girl was dead and gone too.
“And maybe we’ve got more than a few funerals to plan.” Neve said morbidly, her features strained and bitter.
“I can’t lose someone else.” Riley admitted quietly, and Neve fell silent as well. That would normally be her cue to reassure her that their friend was alright, but it looked too bad to realistically say so.
“We should get moving.” Neve said finally. “West.”
She took a step back as Riley fought the urge to stay rooted to the spot – a small part of her still wanted to guard Celeste. But this was still a job, and Neve was technically the leader now, even if she didn’t know it. She would mourn Feb and Celeste forever, but for now she needed to meet with the rest of them, if only so the world would put itself as back to normal as it could.
Neve stood patiently, and Riley gave Celeste one last look before joining her. The pair walked off, to the front of the hotel and then west on the sidewalk. For awhile, it was quiet.
“Why west?” Riley spoke up. “Where’s the meet-up point?”
“The quarry.” Neve answered. “The big empty one.”
“What, in it?” Riley asked. “That makes no sense. Actually, the fact that she sent that code to all of us makes no sense, she knew the traitor would hear.”
“That’s probably why it was coded in the first place.” Neve said. “In hopes that the traitor wouldn’t get it. And to slow the rest of us down so she or Celeste could get there first.”
“But what if the traitor does get it? What happens when we all show up?” Riley asked as she tried to wrap her head around it. “We’ll all have to figure out who the traitor is. Is that what she wanted?”
Neve looked troubled as she thought about it, and Riley suspected she didn’t have a very pleasant response.
“Calling it a bowl was pretty accurate. There’s no cover and nowhere to hide. We’d basically be trapped in there together.” Neve reasoned, and Riley stopped walking and looked to her in alarm.
“She’s going to trap us?” She asked, and Neve scowled.
“Don’t you dare, Ry.” She warned. “She’s our leader, not a hypocrite like someone in our ranks.”
“We’re walking into a trap!” Riley yelled, though she wondered how much power it could have if the woman who set it had died.
“Not for us! For the traitor!” Neve said, then explained further in a huff at Riley’s dumbfounded expression. “She wants us to work together to root her out. I’m sure she’ll say the same once we meet with her.”
“And then what?” Riley asked dully, and then the weight of her question fully sunk in. Whoever betrayed them did more than just rat them out to the cops and try to have them sent to jail. They killed February and Celeste, maybe even Aidy. The rest of the team wouldn’t forgive that, and given how awful the offense was and the fact that they were all criminals, it was pretty likely that they’d take some seriously bloody revenge.
And Riley had to admit, that was something she could really get behind. Her friend and her boss (if she was even innocent) were taken from them in the most disastrous of ways, and the woman responsible deserved everything they threw at her. Beside her, Neve looked angry and haunted, but nowhere near as much as she was. Just from their years together, Riley knew she would want exactly the same brutal thing, even if she didn’t say so. They shared a knowing look.
“Let’s steal a car.” Neve said finally, and Riley nodded.
They found an old station wagon parked in front of a pharmacy, and Riley had it hot-wired in no time at all. Neve got in the passenger seat, and the pair rode off in silence. It wasn’t Riley’s friend; the deep niggling truth of it all was rising to the surface of her thoughts, try as she might to push it down. She was furious with their traitor for the deaths she’d caused, but hadn’t she herself escorted Celeste as far as she had? Wasn’t she just as bad?
She’d overestimated Celeste’s strength earlier. She thought she would last long enough to help Feb or at least expose the plan, but instead she died in some parking lot in the middle of nowhere. Even if she had lived longer, she would have done so in pain and misery on a suicide mission and Riley not only allowed it, she assisted in it. For what, the money? It was right there, sitting at Neve’s feet, but was it worth more than that girl’s life?
In all her rage and shame, she knew the answer. All the reasons she did it – her loyalty to Feb, her want for normalcy, her fear of prison, even the cash – they made her make the wrong choice. She should have ignored Celeste’s wishes and taken her to a hospital instead of turning her into the sacrificial lamb. In that moment, she felt like the most vile idiot in the world.
“I killed Celeste.” She said aloud, though she kept her eyes on the road. For a moment, the silence was deafening.
“What?” Neve asked in a tone of absolute disbelief.
“She wanted to throw her life away so she could get to the quarry first and I helped her do it.” She said blankly. “She was wrong. There’s no price to pay for family. I’m a monster and a fool and she’s dead because of me.”
“Pull over.” Neve said after a quiet moment, and Riley glanced at her to find her jaw clenched. She swallowed hard.
“Can’t shoot me while I’m driving.” She said tersely. “Dangerous for the passenger.”
“Pull. Over.” Neve said in a deep, threatening voice, and Riley gripped the steering wheel.
“I’m going to the quarry. I’ll never make it up to her, but I won’t let her die in vain.” She said just as tight, and Neve grabbed the wheel. She gasped as they swerved into traffic and pushed Neve off to adjust the car. Behind them, a siren began to wail.
“Perfect!” Riley yelled. She had already seen quite enough officers for today.
“Murderer!” Neve screamed, her voice hoarse, and punched her hard in the arm.
“Yeah, I got that.” She sped up and got onto the expressway, then turned her head to see the squad car still close behind them. When the officer behind the wheel saw her face, he was near enough that she could see the look of recognition. “He knows who we are.”
“Good!” Neve practically launched herself onto her and grabbed at her ponytail. “He can arrest you!”
The car swayed dangerously, and Riley nearly let out a shriek as she repositioned it once more. Still, there was something calming about all the mayhem, and her mind cleared enough so she could serve a retort or two back Neve’s way.
“Oh, just the one of us?” She questioned. “Why are you so sure he’ll let you off? Do you know him personally, or just his boss?”
“I’m not the traitor! You are! You killed her!” Neve took out her gun and pointed it at her temple. “Pull over! Now!”
There were more sirens now and they seemed to be coming from every direction. Riley swerved at a dangerously high speed to get onto an exit, but the car behind managed to follow them anyway.
“I’m a bad person, Neve, but I’m not working with the cops. As if they’d let me kill her anyway.” Riley said, and Neve’s eyes went misty. “I’m gonna try to lose them, we can’t lead the police to the quarry.”
“I hate you.” She shot back. “I hate you more than anything.”
“No you don’t.” Riley sighed. “We’re all friends, that’s what makes this so painful.”
Somehow, that was the thing to shut her up for a moment. They got off the highway and ended up on a suburban road, and Riley took a few hard turns around some picket fence houses in attempt to escape, but it seemed that there was another officer around every corner. She swerved when she could and continued to drive every which way, but it felt like she was going in circles and the cops were coming on them like a swarm.
“Who do you think it is?” Neve asked quietly, her gun still pointed at her head after all this time. Riley scoffed.
“You wouldn’t like my answer.” She took a turn so hard she ended up leaning over, and the cold metal of the glock touched her forehead.
“Feb has no motive and you know it.” Neve glowered. “She loves us.”
That was true, she couldn’t think of a reason for Feb to hand them all over to the police, but that didn’t make her innocent. Whoever did this was not a reasonable person – they caused death and destruction on an unholy scale, surely no motive could make cold hard evil into something logical.
“Let’s just get out of this.” Riley said as she turned another corner in a fruitless attempt to shake them. “We’ll deal with things from there.”
“Funny how the killer wants to be civil.” Neve said, her tone scathing. “Shall we go into the quarry skipping and holding hands?”
Riley groaned and got onto a busier road in hopes that the civilian traffic would slow the officers down. She didn’t know how to convince Neve to drop this, because if it were her in that position she would do the exact same thing. Even now she felt a shot to the head would be well earned. No solution came to mind that didn’t involve harming her, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.
Behind them, the officers joined together, and she saw eight or nine squad cars converge half a mile behind the station wagon. Ahead, there was a tunnel, and she suddenly very much regretted the road she decided to take: she didn’t have a very good view of what lay ahead, which made it an opportune spot for the police if they had someone stationed on the other side. Neve realized just as much and looked around with a deep frown.
“Turn off somewhere.” She said, and Riley didn’t waste her breath to point out there was nowhere else to go. “This is bad.”
“Any suggestions?” Riley asked as they approached the tunnel, and Neve looked on-edge.
“Floor it.” She replied, probably in hopes that they could out-speed any officers if it came down to it. Riley nodded and slammed the gas pedal.
What happened next was so fast it was almost a blur. They sped into the tunnel as a particularly brave (or a particularly stupid) officer drove out from the edge and across the other end to stop them. Neve screamed, Riley swerved as she hit the breaks, and the car rolled. She felt heat on the bridge of her nose as Neve accidentally fired a round and the windshield cracked. The sound of metal hitting metal was a roar in their ears as their station wagon hit the squad car hard enough to make it lurch, and finally they stopped moving.
Riley took stock of the situation; she was still alive, could wiggle all her toes, and though two of her fingers were definitely broken they were on her left hand, so she could still fire her gun with abandon. She also happened to be upside down, with her seatbelt the only thing keeping her in her chair. Before them, the cruiser they’d hit looked mostly undamaged, though she assumed the airbags had been deployed and the cop had been knocked out because she wasn’t being dragged out of the vehicle and arrested.
She turned to check on Neve and found her immobile, her eyes closed. Her heart jumped up to her throat as she grabbed her hand, but she quickly found a pulse and sighed with relief. On the ceiling, Neve’s glock rested next to the duffel bag, and Riley reached up (down) and tossed it out the window so it sidled across the asphalt and hit the wall of the tunnel with a clang. She couldn’t hurt her for the moment, but that didn’t mean the moment she came to she wouldn’t go for her gun and try again.
The police behind them were fast approaching, and Riley grimaced as she tried to figure out what to do. Neve was the tallest of the group and would probably be heavy, so she wasn’t sure she could lift her out of there. Sure, she could drag her no problem, but not fast enough to get away, and even then she’d just be a hindrance. A dark part of her knew the easiest thing to do would be to leave her, but doing that would make her just as bad as their traitor.
“Ry?” Neve stirred next to her, and Riley moved some of her tight curls away from her bronze skin so she could see. She stared at her thoughtfully a moment as she tried to take stock of the situation, then narrowed her eyes. “Where is my gun?”
“Okay, that clinches it.” Riley unbuckled her seatbelt and toppled to the floor, then began to scoot towards the window. “You’re on your own.”
“Are you serious?” Neve asked, then tugged at her seatbelt to find it thoroughly caught. “Wait! I’m stuck!”
“I’m sorry. I know this is all really bad.” Riley got half out the window, then looked down to Neve. “But you won’t let me go to the quarry and I need to just . . . I need to discover the traitor. I need to avenge us and get us somewhere near normal.”
“Riley, no!” She yelled. “You can’t leave me to the cops, you traitor! You monster!”
“Well, I certainly can’t leave this to the cops.” She crawled out fully, then reached back in and grabbed the duffel bag. “We’ll talk this out when it’s all over, okay? I love you, Neve.”
“Wait!” Neve wailed, and Riley winced. “Wait, don’t leave me again! Please, not again!”
But it was too late, she was already running from the car as the cops pulled up. She heard one of them tell her to stand down, but was just focused on getting out of there until the one they’d crashed into pushed his car door open and run towards her. Quick as lightning, she grabbed him and spun around so he could shield her from the other officers, then walked backwards towards his car.
Once she saw that the keys were in the transmission, she shoved him to the ground and threw herself behind the wheel. The officers began to fire, but it was too late, and in half a second she was gone.